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Threats facing journalists in northern Kenya

This statement was originally published on on 1 May 2015.

Canadian Journalists for Free Expression (CJFE) is distressed by reports of persistent threats facing journalists working in northern Kenya, particularly in light of recent violence in the region. Kenyan journalists are increasingly being forced to make an impossible choice in their quest to report public interest stories, as they face attacks and threats from both militant groups and government officials.

CJFE has received multiple reports from journalists working on the ground in northern Kenya that the continued incursion of the Al Shabab militant group into the region has created an incredibly insecure environment for media workers. As with many areas wracked by violent insurgency in recent years, the situation in the vast north of the country is now being reported on almost exclusively by very few local freelancers, who lack the adequate institutional support to guarantee any semblance of security.

On the one hand reporters face threats and attacks from Al-Shabab, who seek to control the narrative on their activities. On the other, journalists who report on sensitive issues such as youth recruitment and murders perpetrated by the militant group are threatened and accused by local government officials of being unpatriotic or of purposely inciting fear in the population.

These high levels of threats and insecurity have resulted in the flight of many journalists from the region, threatening coverage of crucial stories in the public interest. Access to accurate, timely information in situations of instability is of the utmost importance even if such truths are uncomfortable for the Kenyan government. This is particularly true in light of the recent tragic attack by Al Shabab at Garissa University College.

With the conflict between Kenyan security forces and the militant group showing no signs of abating, CJFE urges the Kenyan government to develop a more measured policy for working with reporters operating in northern Kenya and to undertake substantive efforts to ensure their protection. Efforts by the Kenyan government to restrict freedom of expression under the guise of counter-terrorism operations are unacceptable.

This letter of concern was sent to His Excellency John Lepi Lanyasunya, High Commissioner of Kenya to Canada and Cuba.

Cc: Mr. David Angell, Canadian High Commissioner to Kenya, Rwanda and Uganda, and Ambassador to Burundi and Somalia

The Honourable Rob Nicholson, Canadian Minister of Foreign Affairs

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